Houston Texans Knock Out 2013 Shopping Early, Lock Up Duane Brown (6 Yrs, $53.4M)

"Wanna again thank the @HoustonTexans front office and staff for believing in my ability and extending this contract." -- Texans left tackle Duane Brown (@DuaneBrown76 on Twitter), 8/16/12

Left tackle, pass rusher, quarterback.

Not only are they the most pivotal positions on the football field (along with shutdown cornerback and a general "playmaker" on offense), but they happen to be the three positions that, before Thursday, the Texans had at the top of their internal shopping list for the 2013 offseason, with Duane Brown, Connor Barwin and Matt Schaub all slated to hit free agency after the 2012 season.

Well, go ahead and cross one of those three off the to-do list -- Duane Brown's contract extension is a done deal.

Wednesday afternoon, as first reported by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Brown inked a six-year extension which begins in 2013:

Brown's six-year extension, which begins in 2013 and runs through 2018, is worth $53.4 million. He gets $22.08 million guaranteed and his average salary per year is $8.9 million. Brown, coming off his best season, had one year left on his original five-year contract and will make $2.08 million this year.

The deal will make Brown among the highest-paid left tackles in football, and most importantly gets him locked up before hitting the open market when, no doubt, if healthy, Brown's availability would have triggered a borderline irresponsible bidding war among NFL general managers.

When Brown was drafted in 2008, the 26th pick overall and the eighth tackle in an offensive tackle-heavy first round, the pick was met with some skepticism by Texan fans and draft experts whose grade on Brown wasn't as high the Texans' grade on Brown. (To wit, longtime 1560 listeners will remember my former co-host John Harris, as "expert" as experts come, actually getting into a three-point stance at Nick's Place on draft day 2008 in an effort to physically show a flaw he thought Brown had in his stance. It was even funnier than it sounds, trust me.)

As it turns out, the Texans were right about Brown.

With a combination of hard work, brute force and a decent-sized chip on his shoulder from hearing the names of seven tackles read before his on draft day, Brown quickly turned himself into a Day One starter for the Texans, and save missing four games in 2010 with a suspension for (mistakenly) taking a supplement containing a banned substance, he has started every game of his Texans career (60 regular season games plus two in the post-season last year).

Not coincidentally, the Texans running game has steadily climbed from the middle of the pack early in Brown's career to seventh in the league in 2010, and all the way to second in 2011.

Those are the numbers, and while they are an indicator, the statistics don't fully measure the Duane Brown Effect on that offensive line and the Texans image around the league. For the first four years of the Kubiak Era, the Texans had been considered a "finesse" team offensively, and some would even go as far as to use the word "soft." (Granted, those detractors typically did this from the cozy shelter of a keyboard, not within an arm's length of an actual Houston Texan.) While "finesse" and "soft" were an upgrade over the "inept" and "soft" offense from the Dom Capers Era, that was small solace to the Texan players who were visibly perturbed any time they had to answer questions about the F-word and the S-word.

But that image changed over the last two years, and Brown's nastiness on the left side of the offensive line was a big part of that. Put it this way, if Chris Myers is the brains of the Texans offensive line, then Duane Brown is undoubtedly its fists. I don't mean that in a "he's dirty" way, but frankly, when people started calling the Texans "dirty" is when they started getting respect.

Deciding which players to spend blue-chip money on in a sport governed by a salary cap is one of the most difficult and legacy-shaping things for an NFL general manager. The cap rules in the NFL allow for teams to generally have a nucleus of about eight to ten players to whom you can give big money (and by "big," I mean a cap figure of like $4.5 million minimum).

Contractually and without words, the Texans have basically said that for the next few years, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Antonio Smith, Johnathan Joseph, Owen Daniels, Chris Myers and Danieal Manning will comprise their financial nucleus. Today, they added Duane Brown to that group. (Down the road, Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt are the no-brainer additions to this group as well.)

The road ahead is paved with numerous difficult decisions. There won't be room for everyone. If Matt Schaub is going to be invited to the party beyond 2012, that will get done after the season is over.

Next up, Connor Barwin.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

Follow Hair Balls News on Facebook and on Twitter @HairBallsNews.

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